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How Michelle Kantor’s Cinefemme is Changing the Script for Women Directors

July 16, 2015

• Rory Gory

 
There is a movement happening among women in the film industry; a slow-building wave that is taking me and my fellow filmmakers up with it.  In the face of dismal and declining statistics for employment of women in the film industry, women filmmakers are turning to each other for support.  In the process, we’re finding our power.  
 
Michelle Kantor is the Executive Director of Cinefemme, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that began contributing to this disruption in 2002.  Cinefemme has helped dozens of women filmmakers achieve fiscal sponsorship to fund their films.  Michelle hatched the idea while pursuing her MFA in Cinema at San Francisco State University.  Knowing that statistics for employment were stacked against her, she banded together with two other women in the program, Katrina Parks and Sirpa Nelson, to form a nonprofit entity that boosts diversity.  Though Michelle could have easily rested on her own portfolio and fast-moving career, she shared the wealth by helping other women filmmakers achieve fiscal sponsorship.  In a culture where women are often encouraged to compete for opportunities, Michelle and her fellow women filmmakers are actively changing the script.
 
I met Michelle while researching my options for finishing and distributing my first feature, The Audience, and she was an invaluable source of information, support, and advice about fiscal sponsorship.  Since many individuals, foundations, corporations, or government organizations restrict funding of independent projects to tax-exempt organizations, Cinefemme serves as a conduit for financial resources to qualifying projects. This allows women filmmakers to solicit donations that are considered a charitable deduction for income tax purposes, as well as government and foundation grant funding. Creatively, all rights, title and interest to the project remain with the filmmaker. Cinefemme also supports women filmmakers with mentorship, fundraising tools, marketing, promotion, and screening at the annual Cinefemme Film Festival
 
Cinefemme’s list of successfully funded projects is growing thanks to their generous discounts to members of Seed&Spark, the Alliance of Women Directors, and Women in Film.  Cinefemme sponsorship is not just limited to feature films, but also includes short films, student films, transmedia and multi-media projects, and even conceptual art projects with a female lead.  Sponsorship can also be used to fundraise for a certain portion of the project phase, such as development, production, finishing funds, or distribution. In addition to supporting films by women, Cinefemme also supports projects that further their mission like The Director List.  In this way, Cinefemme is actively giving women filmmakers an opportunity to realize their visions, and increasing visibility for women directors.  
 
What I began to notice is that as all these industry groups facilitated friendships and professional relationships, a web of women directors was becoming increasingly interconnected and powerful in Hollywood.  In the face Hollywood’s “ultimate culture of scarcity for women,” as Emily Best defines it, women are rebelling by creating a culture of abundance. Emily Best’s Seed&Spark has been leading the way, by creating a platform where women filmmakers can bypass traditional, sexist gatekeepers in financing and funding.  By crowdfunding, women filmmakers can cultivate an audience that wants to see films made by women, about women.
 
Using these new platforms for funding, marketing, and distribution, women filmmakers are supporting each other to increase opportunities for all of us. It’s no coincidence that Diane Bell of Rebel Heart Film just finished funding her third feature, Of Dust and Bones, on Seed&Spark.  Diane Bell has mentored me and so many other filmmakers on how to launch low-budget indies through her Rebel Heart Workshops, and she used Emily’s platform to launch her own film outside the studio system. Now Michelle, after supporting so many women filmmakers with Cinefemme, is using Seed&Spark to crowdfund her feature Red Star, which follows her parents incredible escape of Communist Czechoslovakia. 
 
In 1965, Michelle’s father Peter Kantor escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia by scuba-diving the river across the border to freedom. Her mother, Jana Kantor, escaped shortly afterwards to Austria with no money and with a four-year old child.  She traveled to Canada and then New York, following her dream to reunite the family.  I’m so inspired by Michelle’s story, because as women filmmakers, we understand what it is to overcome incredible odds.  When recounting the story, Michelle commented to me that though we may have more freedom than her father, we have cultural oppressions that affect us mentally.  Her story inspires me to make my own filmmaking dreams a reality. 
 
As we band together to support each other as women filmmakers, I’m starting to believe that the impossible can be achieved.  That regardless of the statistics stacked against us, the implicit bias of the studios, and the hardships of being a woman in our society, we still have the power within ourselves to make our voices heard.  When we come together to champion each others projects, we create a more diverse and equitable entertainment industry.  This is why I’m supporting Michelle in the creation of her film, Red Star, and why I’m encouraging all the other women filmmakers I know to do so as well.  By supporting each other, we all become stronger.  Together, we are the future of cinema.
 
To find out more about Cinefemme, visit: http://cinefemme.net
To learn more about Red Star, visit: http://redstarmovie.com
To join the movement, visit: http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/red-star
 

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Rory Gory

Rory Gory is a queer, feminist, award-winning filmmaker behind Rory Gory Pictures, whose feature film debut The Audience is coming to VOD in 2015. Rory received a BFA in Experimental Film from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which was complet

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